Put place before people, governance consultant says

Thoughts on the Islands Trust Governance Task Force

By Graham Brazier, Denman Island

The Islands Trust Governance Task Force may have gotten more than it bargained for when it requested an independent consultant examine its structure with a view to improving how it governs. The work of the Task Force on Governance began in March of 2006 and will conclude with a report to Trust Council in June 2007. However, no sooner had the Task Force determined that a larger Local Trust Committee for Salt Spring Island was warranted, than the independent consultant released his report with startlingly different conclusions. It’s evident that the Task Force and the consultant have fundamentally differing views of what the Islands Trust is, and what it ought to be.

The Task Force is made up of Trustees, all steeped in the ‘culture’ which views the Trust as a ‘local government’ and views us, the residents and landowners of the Trust Area, as the folks they ‘represent’. Trustees see their role as that of balancing the interests of their residents and landowners (those who elect them) against the interests of the environment. The best of them view themselves as ‘councillors with a mandated conscience’. Nevertheless, as time has passed, the interests of the electorate have continued to encroach on the interests of the environment. And, of course, there’s no reason to expect that to change in the future. Some islands will move slower than others, but all are likely to continue to expand human-based interests at the expense of other interests, much like other jurisdictions where local governments are responsible for land-use.

The Consultant, who suggests that he may also speak for the Province, sees the Trust quite differently. He sees it as an organization established to protect a ‘place’. That is its only function. Throughout the report the phrase ‘places’ before ‘people’ appears again and again and again. In his view, the Trust was not intended to be a local government, it was not intended to represent the interests of its residents. On the contrary, it was intended to protect the ‘place’ for the ‘people of British Columbia’ largely from Trust Area residents and landowners.

It is my impression that this view is closer to the original motivation for the formation of the Trust. This view identifies the ‘place’ as worthy of protection and sees ‘people’, particularly residents and landowners, as the main threat to that ‘place’. It was, and continues to be, residents and landowners that seek to intrude, to subdivide, to log, to pave. We, the residents, have great difficulty seeing ourselves as ‘the enemy’, but it is evident that from the inception of the Trust, we have managed to wrest power away from the appointed Trustees back to the local electorate and have presided over the all the negative environmental impacts that have occurred since 1978 when that power shift took place.